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martes, abril 27, 2010

Arizona: All Hail The Emerging Police State

Arizona has apparently decided to use its police force as an instrument to oppress and harass Mexican appearing people within its borders. And, as you might expect from a police state, it is doing so at the expense of protecting citizens and diverting law enforcement from its traditional functions, enforcing the penal laws.

Linda Greenhouse, who usually writes about the Supreme Court for the New York Times, had an op-ed yesterday, "Breathing While Undocumented," that captures Arizona as the emerging police state it truly is:

What would Arizona’s revered libertarian icon, Barry Goldwater, say about a law that requires the police to demand proof of legal residency from any person with whom they have made “any lawful contact” and about whom they have “reasonable suspicion” that “the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States?” Wasn’t the system of internal passports one of the most distasteful features of life in the Soviet Union and apartheid-era South Africa?

And in case the phrase “lawful contact” makes it appear as if the police are authorized to act only if they observe an undocumented-looking person actually committing a crime, another section strips the statute of even that fig leaf of reassurance. “A person is guilty of trespassing,” the law provides, by being “present on any public or private land in this state” while lacking authorization to be in the United States — a new crime of breathing while undocumented. The intent, according to the State Legislature, is “attrition through enforcement.”

The rest of the op-ed is definitely worth reading. But there's another point that deserves to be made about the Arizona statute.

What is the effect of this crazy state statute on law enforcement in Arizona and how law enforcement fulfills its usual role, not as an agent of BICE enforcing the federal immigration laws, but in investigating actual crimes and making arrests for them? The answer to that question: it's a complete, unmitigated disaster.

Let's suppose there is a robbery. Let's suppose the person who is robbed at gunpoint is undocumented. After the mugging, when the robber has disappeared with her purse and credit cards and other documents and her money, does the victim call the cops to report the robbery? Maybe not. After all, she's "trespassing" in the US. And the police who come to interview her about the robbery are clearly making a "lawful contact" with her. After she provides her name and address, might they stumble in their conversation with her upon a "reasonable suspicion" to ask her for her immigration documents? Maybe. And if you forget about the procedural niceties, as I'm sure the police will, isn't she inviting the double whammy: first she's mugged, and then she's arrested on suspicion of being undocumented because she called the cops.

But what if the victim of the mugging is legally in the US? If that victim is legally in the US, because she's a citizen or has obtained the right papers, will she be able to display her papers for the gendarmes investigating the robbery, to show that she shouldn't be arrested? Of course not. Don't be silly. They were supposed to be in her purse. And her purse is now gone. Knowing this, does she call the cops to report a robbery? I don't know the answer, but I note that there's a new, powerful disincentive for dialing 911. The disincentive is arrest and detention while notoriously slow BICE sorts out her status.

These are legitimate fears that reporting a crime will end up badly for the victim. Faced with these possibilities, do crime victims report crimes against them? Do they report crimes to which they are witnesses? Do they dial 911 to ask for help when there's a crime, or an accident, or an injury? If you dial 911, you think that the police will respond to your call. And when they do, aren't you, whether you're documented or not, going to be having "lawful contact" with them? Is this exercise of civic responsibility going to turn out badly for you?

This is why local cops shouldn't be working on the immigration issue. Ever. This is why they shouldn't be asking about immigration status. Society in general needs victims of crimes and witnesses to their occurrence to be able freely to call the cops. To dial 911. When you introduce incentives not to call, not to get involved, not to see what happened, not to talk to cops, everyone in society is that much less safe.

Do the Arizona legislators and the Governor care about this? Evidently not. They'd rather go on a vendetta against the Latino population of their state than think for a nanosecond about the consequences of their racism. They've made everyone in Arizona less safe. They should take responsibility for that.

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